The Christian’s True Identity (Cruse)

The Christian's True Identity: What It Means to Be in Christ

There are a handful of good books on Christian identity: who we are in Christ. Jerry Bridges wrote “Who Am I,” Melissa Kruger wrote “Identity Theft,” Richard Lints wrote “Identity and Idolatry,” and so on. It’s nice to have good Christian resources for a biblical view of identity!

Here’s another helpful book on Christian identity to add to your list: “The Christian’s True Identity” by Jonathan Cruse. It’s a 150 page devotional sort of book that expounds ten New Testament texts that have to do with our identity “in Christ.” The chapters discuss the NT themes of these aspects of being in Christ: chosen, forgiven, righteous, adopted, secure, and so on. These ten chapters are based on ten sermons Cruse gave on these NT texts. There are also some “for further study” questions at the end of the chapter.

This is a pretty straightforward book that is not too difficult to read. It would make a great ten day devotional for the Christian who wants to study what it means for him or her to be “in Christ.” It would also make a good 10-week study for a book club. I appreciate how “The Christian’s True Identity” basically expounds upon all the blessings we receive from being joined to Christ by faith. Who he is and who I am in him are essential aspects of my Christian identity. This is a faith-strengthening topic for sure and the book is one that helps us focus on our Lord Jesus. Recommended!

Jonathan Cruse, The Christian’s True Identity.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Losing Identity, Losing Sanity (Keller)

Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical

As many of our readers know, identity issues and crises are a dime a dozen in our culture today. It’s not just a gender thing. People also find their identity in what they do or don’t eat, their political views, their preferred method of schooling their children, their excursions and adventures, or their looks/image. And the list goes on. Timothy Keller has a good chapter on this topic called “The Problem of the Self” in his book Making Sense of God. I’ll cite a paragraph from this chapter below, but you’ll have to get the book to follow the larger (helpful!) discussion that ends with a great empahsis on finding one’s identity in Christ:

If we base our identity on love we come to the same cul-de-sac that we saw with the novelist who got his identity from work. Just as he could not bear poor work, so we will not be able to handle the problems in our love relationships. The writer had to believe he is a great writer in order to be sane. We will have to believe our love relationship is ok – if it goes off the rails, we lose our sanity. Why? If our very identity is wrapped up in something and we lose it, we lose our very sense of self. If you are getting your identity from the love of a person – you won’t be able to give them criticism because their anger will devastate you. Nor will you be able to bear their personal sorrows and difficulties. If they have a problem and start to get self-absorbed and are not giving you the affirmation you want, you won’t be able to take it. It will become a destructive relationship. The Western understanding of identity formation is a crushing burden, both for individuals and society as a whole.

Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God, p. 131.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54002

A Balanced View of The Christian (Stott)

 If you follow Jesus and want to learn more about yourself as a Christian one excellent place to turn is 1 Peter 2:1-17.  This is that great text where the Apostle calls God’s people living stones, a holy priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, etc.   It’s really a gold mine for understanding our identity as Christians.

John Stott has some great comments on these verses in The Radical Disciple.  In fact, chapter 6 of the book is a discussion of 1 Peter 2:1-17.  I like how Stott brings it all together at the end of the chapter:

My readers may well have been wondering why I have entitled this chapter with the one word ‘Balance’. The reason should now become clear. We have followed Peter in the six metaphors which go to make up the portrait he paints of the disciple. Here they are again:

• as newborn babies we are called to growth,

• as living stones to fellowship,

• as holy priests to worship,

• as God’s own people to witness,

• as aliens and strangers to holiness,

• as servants of God to citizenship.

This is a beautifully comprehensive and balanced portrait. These six duties seem to resolve themselves into three couplets, each of which contains a balance.

We are called to both individual discipleship and corporate fellowship…worship and work…and pilgrimage and citizenship.

First, we are called to both individual discipleship and corporate fellowship. Babies, although born into a family, have their own identity. Even twins are born one by one! But the primary function of the stones used in building is to be part of something else. They have surrendered their individuality to the building. Their significance is not in themselves but in the whole. So we need to emphasize both our individual and our corporate responsibilities.

Secondly, we are called to both worship and work. As a priesthood we worship God. As God’s own people we witness to the world. The church is a worshipping, witnessing community.

Thirdly, we are called to both pilgrimage and citizenship.

In each couplet we are called to balance, and not to emphasize either at the expense of the other. Thus we are both individual disciples and church members, both worshippers and witnesses, both pilgrims and citizens.

Nearly all our failures stem from the ease with which we forget our comprehensive identity as disciples. Our Heavenly Father is constantly saying to us what King George V kept saying to the Prince of Wales, ‘My dear child, you must always remember who you are, for if you remember your identity you would behave accordingly.’

 John Stott, The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling (Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2012).

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Identity Politics (Anderson)

 Here’s a helpful book about what it means to find your identity in Christ: Identity Theft edited by Melissa Kruger.  It is specifically aimed at women, but I’ve found it helpful as a resource for my sermons on image and identity.  There are ten chapters on biblical topics that have to do with the Christian’s identity, including freedom in Christ, being a child of God, being redeemed, reflecting God’s image, and so forth.

The second chapter, written by Hannah Anderson, is a short explanation of what it means to find identity in being image bearers – made in the image of God.  At one point Anderson talks about today’s “identity politics.”  This is a phrase used to describe a person’s tendency to find identity in social categories:

This term is not limited to government or policy debates but speaks more broadly to how we center our sense of self on one particular attribute of our identity and then define everything else by it.

To be fair, categories themselves are not wrong.  We use the categories of occupation, relationships, family, and biography to communicate how we spend our days and the work we have been called to on this earth.  The problem comes when we ask these categories to do more than they can do – when we ask them to hold all that we are. After all, if we try to stuff complicated, diverse, fully formed living beings into small, inanimate categories, we shouldn’t be surprised when they feel tight and cramped and begin to suffocate us.

Worse still, when we define ourselves with limited categories, any shift in those categories can destabilize our sense of self. What happens to us when life doesn’t play out in the way we expected – when a marriage ends or never happens in the first place? What happens to us when we’re laid off or fail in the marketplace? What happens to us when motherhood doesn’t come easily?

If we invested our sense of self in something small, temporal, and unstable, we will become small, temporal, and unstable people. When they collapse or come to a natural end (as even good things do), we enter a crisis of identity. For without them, how will we know our sense of purpose, calling, and direction? Life will become meaningless and empty.

Anderson goes on to explain the stability of one’s identity when found in the Lord:

The truth about our core identity is so much richer, more glorious, and more soul satisfying than any category or role we could conceive for ourselves.  God…calls us to find ourselves in something more than earthly categories. He calls us to find our identity in Him.  (Being made in the image of God [Gen. 1:27] means that) our deepest sense of self must be found in God. Not in categories, not in roles, not in successes or failure. In him.  …Because by making us in his image, God did more than simply confirm value on our lives; he also instilled in us a deep sense of purpose and calling.  As image bearers of God, we too are called to show forth the glory, power, and might our king. Our deepest sense of purpose and identity is so bound up in this calling that everything about our lives – from the work we do, to the people we love, to the place we live – all somehow connect back to him.

Hannah Anderson, “Reflection: Made in God’s Image” in Identity Theft, edited by Melissa Kruger.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Limits of Science Concerning Human Nature (Moreland/Rae)

 Since I’m doing a sermon series on image and identity, I picked up Love Thy Body by Nancy Pearcey.  I’ve mentioned it here several times in the past month or two.  I also recently picked up Body and Soul: Human Nature and the Crisis in Ethics by J. P. Moreland and Scott Rae.  Body and Soul is a biblical and philosophical study of the human body and the human soul: what they are and how they relate.  It’s a rather difficult read, to be honest, since it is a philosophical look at these topics.  I’m learning some new things such as metaphysical distinctions relevant to anthropology, degreed and nondegreed property, mereology, and so on.

The main thesis of the book is that, in the authors’ view, human persons are not property-things, but substances.  They back up their thesis with Scripture and with logical arguments from philosophy.  The last three chapters are application chapters where the authors discuss beginning of life ethics and end of life ethics based on their biblical and philosophical view that humans are substances, not property-things.

One part I appreciated was where they discussed science’s input on human persons:

In our view, when it comes to addressing the nature of human persons, science is largely incompetent either to frame the correct questions or to provide answers.  The hard sciences are at their best when they describe how physical systems work, but they are largely incompetent when settling questions about the nature of consciousness, intentionality, personal identity and agency, and related matters. Recently, philosopher and scientific naturalist John Searle have argued that 15 years of focused on philosophy of mind, artificial intelligence and cognitive psychological models of consciousness have been a waste of time in a number of ways…

… We do not agree with everything Searle says here, but he is correct in claiming that various disciplines studying the nature of human persons have been mired in chaos and confusion for at least a half a century. In our view, the reason for this chaos has been the assumption that science is the best way to approach the relevant questions.

The authors go on to give some assertions that are very difficult, if not impossible, for hard sciences to explain (e.g. mental states, the human soul, thoughts, etc.).  I agree with Moreland and Rae in that science can do much to help our understanding of humans, but science has its limits.  Thankfully we have God’s Word, which not only tells us about him, it also tells us about ourselves, humans, made in the image of God, body and soul, male and female.  And Scripture gives us a teleological outlook: the chief end of man is to glorify and enjoy God forever!

The above quote is found on pages 41-42 of Moreland and Rae, Body & Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015